Falcons-Buccaneers Preview

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally put an end to their skid, but
it came far too late to salvage their season.

Things also appear lost for the Atlanta Falcons, whose last win
came against Tampa Bay four weeks ago.

The Buccaneers hope to build on their first victory and avoid a
ninth loss in 11 meetings to the visiting Falcons on Sunday.

Tampa Bay (1-8) became the league’s final team to win with
Monday’s 22-19 victory over Miami. After blowing a 15-0 lead, the
Buccaneers got the go-ahead score with Bobby Rainey’s 1-yard TD run
to cap an 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter. The defense then
sealed the win with Darrelle Revis’ interception with 1:35 to
play.

Coach Greg Schiano is optimistic his players will be able to
play more relaxed moving forward.

“Getting it out of the way, I don’t care who you are, as the
losses mount getting that (first) one win becomes harder and harder
(to get),” Schiano said. “I hope now that our guys can just go out
and play. Although they’ve said there’s no additional pressure, I
think human nature puts that pressure on yourself.”

Atlanta (2-7) hasn’t won since a 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay in
Week 7, dropping three games by a combined 61 points including a
33-10 defeat to Seattle last Sunday.

For a team that posted a 56-24 regular-season record over the
last five years under coach Mike Smith – second only to New England
– being all but eliminated from the playoff hunt is an unfamiliar
spot for the Falcons. Smith received some criticism for leaving
quarterback Matt Ryan and other stars in late against the Seahawks
despite the lopsided deficit.

However, he isn’t so ready to surrender despite the fact that
Atlanta only clings to a minute chance of reaching the
playoffs.

“This season is not over,” said Smith, whose previous worst
record was 9-7 in 2009. “I know people want to say doom and gloom.
That’s not the case. We’ve not played the type of football that
we’d like to play in the first nine games. It is well below our
expectations and we’re going to continue to work and get ready to
play the Buccaneers.”

The Falcons have been ineffective on the ground in the last
three weeks despite the return of Steven Jackson, averaging 56.3
rushing yards per game as a team with no scores. A knee injury to
left tackle Sam Baker hasn’t helped their cause.

Atlanta, which averages an NFL-worst 64.3 rushing yards, was
held to 18 yards on 18 carries last month against Tampa Bay.

“The thing about it is you have to keep chipping away. No one is
going to come in the locker room and save us. We have to save
ourselves. … We can’t dwell on it,” said Jackson, who was held to
11 yards on nine carries against Seattle. “One thing about being a
professional, you have to acknowledge the things you made a mistake
on and move on to the next one.”

The lack of an effective running attack and big deficits have
also left more pressure on Ryan and the passing game. Ryan has
posted a 61.6 passer rating over his last three games with three
TDs and seven interceptions.

Perhaps facing Tampa Bay can help him get back on track given he
was 20 of 26 for 273 yards and three TDs in the first meeting.

Unlike Atlanta, the Buccaneers’ running game appears to be
heading in the right direction. Although Mike James broke his ankle
Monday to join Doug Martin as the team’s second back to suffer a
season-ending injury, Brian Leonard and Rainey proved to be a
potent duo, combining for 102 yards on 28 carries. Tampa Bay was
coming off a season-high 205 rushing yards against Seattle.

The Falcons should be bolstered by the expected return of
linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who hasn’t played since Week 2.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez’s status is still uncertain after he
momentarily left Sunday’s contest due to a toe injury.

Atlanta will be without running back Jason Snelling after he was
arrested early Friday morning on misdemeanor charges of marijuana
possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Smith made the announcement Saturday, saying he was
”disappointed in what has transpired over the last 48 hours.”